The six-team Heartland Division was incredibly tough in 2017, with each team boasting impressive defensive records and five of six squads with four-plus wins.
The Thunder Bay Chill emerged as the class of the division, with the best scoring and defensive marks, the best record, and a playoff run to the PDL Championship. The Des Moines Menace finished closely behind and won their playoff opener before falling to the Chill in the Central Conference final.
Here's a closer look at the Heartland Division Season in Review
Photo by Chicago FC United
Record: 4-5-5, +2 GD
Heartland Division Finish: 5th
MVP: Ryan Sierakowski - 6 goals, 2 assists
Starting with Chicago FC United, it’s immediately apparent that the Heartland Division was a brutal place to play in 2017. The level of competition is obvious, as Chicago FC United finished just shy of the .500 mark at 4-5-5, with a net positive goal-differential, and yet finished next-to-last in the division this season. The team had a consistent first half of the year, but perhaps not in a way they would’ve wanted to be consistent. The team only suffered one defeat in that span, but also earned just one win, with five draws completing their first-half record. The positives were a huge 6-0 win over St. Louis Lions and draws against the Michigan Bucks, Thunder Bay Chill and Des Moines Menace. The second half traded consistency for up-and-down swings, as the team went 3-3-0 in somewhat alternating fashion. Overall, it wasn’t enough to stay near the top of the brutal division. In attack, two players clearly stood out in Ryan Sierakowski, with six goals and two assists, and Chris Mueller, with four goals and a team-leading three assists. Those two stars led the second-best attack in the division, while the defense had a bit more trouble. Sawyer Jackman and James Barkei performed respectably in goal, with a 1.50 and 1.00 goals-against average respectively, but in such a competitive division, it wasn’t enough to win consistently.
Photo by Des Moines Menace
Record: 7-5-2, +7 GD
Heartland Division Finish: 2nd
Playoffs: Lost in Central Conference Finals
MVP: Devyn Jambga - 5 goals, 1 assist
The Des Moines Menace put together a very good 2017 season, finishing second in the Heartland Division and winning their playoff opener. But consistency was a struggle for the Menace, with the team winning consecutive games just once all year in a three-match midseason winning streak. That held true in the playoffs as well, as the team was bounced by the Thunder Bay Chill in the Central Conference Final after winning the Semifinal. Still, the Menace compared favorably to top-level competition, taking two wins in three matches from the aforementioned Chill, keeping the division close as a result. The Menace shined on the defensive end of the field, allowing a mere 12 goals, the second-best rate in the division. Kyle Ihn was a monster in goal, earning a 0.55 goals-against average as he allowed only three goals in his six matches between the posts, while also maintaining an 84.2 save percentage. Jacob Leeker and Austin Kroll split the remaining time in net and also posted very strong numbers to keep the Menace clean at the back. In attack, the Menace struggled a bit, scoring only 19 goals on the year. That didn’t stop Devyn Jambga and Hayden Partain from posting impressive numbers, as the former contributed five goals and an assist with the latter tacking on four goals and two assists of his own.
Photo by Saint Louis FC U23
Record: 6-4-4, +1 GD
Heartland Division Finish: 3rd
MVP: Elliot Goodwin - 4 goals, 2 assists
Saint Louis FC U23 posted an impressive 6-4-4 record in 2017, good for third place in the highly-competitive Heartland Division. Like many other teams in the difficult region, consistency was hard to come by for Saint Louis FC U23, as the team managed to win back-to-back games just once. Those wins came to open the season as the team took two out of two from WSA Winnipeg in a pair of shutout victories. However, Saint Louis FC U23 would struggle through its next five matches, going winless with three draws to show for their efforts. The back end of the season would see a return to success, as the team would post a 4-2-1 record in their final six matches to finish just one point shy of the Des Moines Menace in second place. Defensively, Saint Louis FC U23 were as good as their position indicated, allowing only 15 goals on the year. Kyle Dal Santo was strong while taking the majority of time in net, posting a 0.86 goals-against average. Offensively the team had difficulties, with its 16 goals scored second-worst in the division. Almost two-thirds of that production came from two players, as Elliot Goodwin scored four goals and recorded two assists and Samuel Gainford added another four goals and three assists to the team’s totals.
Photo by St. Louis Lions
Record: 6-7-1, -8 GD
Heartland Division Finish: 4th
MVP: Vadim Cojocov - 9 goals, 3 assists
A little over midway through the 2017 season, the St. Louis Lions seemed like serious contenders for the division crown, but a brutal end of the season stretch saw them drop down to a fourth-place finish. Through nine matches, the Lions boasted an impressive 6-2-1 record, largely thanks to a five-match winning streak from June 7 to June 25 that included a win over the Des Moines Menace. Entering the final stretch of five matches, the Lions seemed in good shape, but had a beast of a schedule remaining including three matches against the Thunder Bay Chill. Unfortunately, those matches would prove as difficult as they seemed and the Lions would drop all five, including four against the two teams that would ultimately finish first and second in the division in 2017. The Lions offensively were among the division’s best, scoring 19 goals largely thanks to huge production from Vadim Cojocov, who scored an astounding nine goals and recorded three assists, leading the team in both categories. Defensively, the team struggled, posting the second-worst defensive record in the division, though Casey Clark posted a respectable 1.83 goals-against average in the majority of matches in net.
Photo by Thunder Bay Chill
Record: 9-3-2, +18 GD
Heartland Division Finish: 1st
Playoffs: Lost in PDL Championship
MVP: Mitchell Osmond - 1 goal, 1 assist
From start to finish, it was apparent that the Thunder Bay Chill were the class of the Heartland Division in the 2017 season. The division-winners would post a strong 9-3-2 record, the best offensive and defensive records in the division, and would go on to win the Central Conference and ultimately make it to the PDL Championship before finally falling to the Charlotte Eagles. Prior to their postseason winning streak, the Chill were a bit streaky during the regular season, eight of their nine wins in four individual two-game winning streaks. Thankfully, the winning streaks outlasted and outnumbered the alternative, and the Chill boasted the strongest season in the Heartland Division. Offensively, the team’s 26 goals were best in the division. Leading the attack was the power trio of Adam Abdellaoui, with five goals and one assist, Brandon Swartzendruber, with four goals and three assists, and Abraham Villon, with four goals and four assists. But where the Chill really shined was on the defensive end of the field, as the team allowed a PDL-best eight goals all season long. In net, David Elias shined with a 0.58 goals-against average and an 86.0 save percentage. But it was defender Mitchell Osmond who was the impact player for the Chill, earning PDL Defender of the Year and All-League honors while even contributing a goal and an assist on the offensive end.
Photo by WSA Winnipeg
Record: 2-11-1, -21 GD
Heartland Division Finish: 6th
MVP: Raphael Ohin - 4 goals, 1 assist
The 2017 season was rough for WSA Winnipeg, but at least part of those difficulties can be blamed on the incredibly difficult nature of the Heartland Division. Seven of the team’s 14 matches were played against the top two teams in the division, the Thunder Bay Chill and Des Moines Menace. Winnipeg played through most of the season on a 12-match winless streak as a result, finally snapping their drought in the final two matches of the season. Those two matches against Saint Louis FC U23, a 4-1 win, and the St. Louis Lions, a 5-2 win, proved to be the high point of the year, as back-to-back victories provided a note of positivity to close the season. The team struggled both offensively and defensively, scoring a division-low 12 goals and allowing a division-high 33 goals. However, a trio of players proved themselves nicely in attack, as Raphael Ohin scored four goals and recorded an assist, Daniel Sagno scored twice and assisted twice and Moses Danto scored twice and assisted his teammates four times. Defensively, Evan Barker saw most of the time in net and though the team had difficulties in keeping their opponents off the scoreboard, Barker made an impressive 60 saves.